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Organizational Conflict and Dispute Resolution

Organizational Conflict and Dispute Resolution

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Conflict among organizations is as old as the concept of the organization itself. Furthermore, dispute resolution, while poorly developed in the business community has been well cultivated in the public forum. This article reviews the conflict issues the modern corporation faces and suggests that firms can learn valuable lessons from their public counterparts. Originally published in 1993.
Conflict among organizations is as old as the concept of the organization itself. Furthermore, dispute resolution, while poorly developed in the business community has been well cultivated in the public forum. This article reviews the conflict issues the modern corporation faces and suggests that firms can learn valuable lessons from their public counterparts. Originally published in 1993.

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Organizational
Conflict
and
Dispute
Resolution
Scott
M. Shemwefl
Nova
Southeastern UniversityIntroductionConflict among
humans
IS
a
naturally occurring event (Davls.
1991
It
can
often
be
described
in terms
of
competition for scarce resources, or in !erms
of
the struggle for survival. In
the
contemporary business organtzat~onhese forms
of conflict
manifest
themselves
asinter-department competition for corporate resources, and the struggle for
power
in
the
political arena.
For
example, negotiations over budget dollars, prime parking spaces, or
the
empire building
so
common
in
business
todayHowever,
a
certain
amount of
tension
is natural and necessary.
In
mechanicalengineering
for
example. frlctlon between moving parts
is
necessary
in order for mechanrcalsystems to function
property.
I
e
.
belt
tension
between
a
pulley
and
the motor driving the pulley
We
therefore, walk
a
flne llne attempting to reduce frjctlon.
so
the parts do not wear outprematurely.
even
while we know
that
friction
is necessary ~f he system to function properly
(Davis.
7
991
.
Mary
Parker
F
ollettAlthough her
name
has
slipped from view.MaryParker Follett
was
one of the early
,
authors on the
subject
of
confl~ct nd conflict resolution.
At
the
beginning of the 20th century
she
Identified three principal
methods
individuals
use
to
deal
wlth
conflict'
domination.cornpromlse and integration (Davis.
1991).
She
defined
domination
as
the victory
of
one
side
over
another and
suggested
that
thts
15
he
easiest
way
to
resolve conflict However,
she
knew
that
while
success
was
quickly
atta~ned. t
was
momentary and
rarely
lasted. Likewise
she
defined comprornlse,
the
way
most
disputes
are
settled,as
a
meeting
of
the minds arrived at after both sides
had
given up
a
little.Finally.
she
felt that
the
~ntegrat~on
r
the
two
desires
or
positions together meant that neitherside
had
to sacrifice
their
pos~t~on
he believed that this approach was
the
most effective in
the
long run (Dav~s.
99j).
Ms.
Follett
was
a
pioneer
and advocate
of
the creative and constructive approaches tcdispute resolution.
Currently
her Ideas are enjoying
a
rebirth, and rightfully so.
for
these
concepts are applicable in
today's
corporation more
than
everFor example. Follett agreed withFrederick Taylor
that
authority is derived
from
function
and
not position
This
view is consistentwith the
team
building activities of today where authority
is
shifted
to
people with knowledge,
and
not
necessarily the owner of
the
hierarchical position.
Her
concept
of
"power
with"
instead
of
"power over" is
the
essence
of
the
integration position towards confl~ct
hat
she
proposed
(Wren.
1987)
Constructive
Conflict
Haviny recogn~zedhat conflict is
a
natural phenomenon.
~t
is
worth identifying sources
of
conflict
in
today's organ~zalions.
As
might
be
expected,
an
organization in which alldepartmenls
mesh we[[
ogether, suffers
less
from contradictory situations or tensions at the
margin
of departments
(Pascaie.
1990)However. one would
be
hard pressed
lo
find
such
a
tranquil organization. furthermore,
it
rS
not clear that
such
an
organization
would
be
the
most
eff~cientmodel.
Research
has shownthat
the
best run companies (Ford,
Federal
Express.
and
Horlda
to
name
a
few)
fa[l
Into
an
 
organizational model wllh
a
high
degree
ofcoherenceand
significant internal tension
(Pasca[e.
I
90).
By
examining
these
and
other
companies.
Pasale
(1990)
determined that contention
within
organizations arises in very predictable
domains
He
further
divides these domains into
seven
specific vectors
of
contention:
Contending
Opposites
Strategy:Planned
<
--------
>
Opportun~st~cStructure:Elitist
c
--------
>
Pluralrs?Systems:Mandatory
<--------->
Discrel~onary
Sty!e:
Manageria]
<--------a
ransformationalStaff.Collegiality
<--------->
individual~tyShared
Values:
Hard Minds
<--------a
oft
Hearts
Skills:Maximize
<--------->
"Meta-mize"Pascale
(1
990)
further expla~ns.
hat
it is not
the
specific list
of
dialectic domains that
dnves
this
model.
but
only the
fact
that
polarities exist in
an
organization.
These
polar~ties rethe source
of
energy for what he calls "constructive disequilibrium
"
Constructrve disequilibrium suggests
tha!
internal differences can broaden
a
company'soutlook
by
generating new points
of
view. In other words,
as
Follett believed it
is
not in
the
winning
or
compromising
of
conflict that
an
organizalron
benefits,
but in
the
~ntegration
f
conflicting ideas. It
is
noteworthy that this model
of
confl~ci
as
a
lot of s~milarity ith the
r
phys~cal.
mechanical
model
discussed earlier.
Non-Constructive
Conflict
The
above
model is
helpful in
explaining how conflict
can
be
useful, and
IR
fact benefit
an
~rganization
However, not
all
conflict
is
constructive; although
~t
s interesting
that
the
same
conflict behaulor that is developedpreviously
IS
only
one
sided.
Like
all human behavior
there
15
potentially
a
dark
or
negative side
of
confl~ct.
Internal
Competitiveness
By
their nature, groups can become
very
committed
to
theirowngoals and beliefs. Ifthey become
too
internally focused. however, they
can
become competitive with other groupsand
seek
to undermine other
teams.
If this is the
case, the
conflict
between
groups
then
becomes
a
liability to the
organization
{Hersey&Blanchard.
1988)
Change
Changes
mustlw~ll ccur constantly in
an
organizat~on Normal!y wher;
we
think ofchange with
think
of large organizational changes, for
example,
re-englneerlng.However,organizations
change
continually, in
small
incremental
steps.
I
e..
personnel ass~gnments, r
the
movement
of
off~ce quipment (Lawrence. 1969).
Changes
of
all
kinds
can
be
sources
of
conflict,
and
often
it is not the visible signtflcant
changes
lhat
develop drsputes, but the little almost invisible
issues
that
develop
hard
feel~ngswithin
an
organization.
Offen
the
hard
feelings within
a
group become insidious,
and
hencedifficult
for
the
local manager to Identify. Furthermore, even if
the
conflict is recognized,
often
the local
manager
does not have
the
knowledge or
sk~lls
o
deal
with
the
situation
(Maccoby.
1988).
 
Diversity
The
work force
of
today,
and
more increasing in the future is
a
very
diverse group
The
implications of the diversity issue
are
stdl
unclear
and confusing to
most
managers (Jamieson&O'Mara,
1991).
In addition social stresses between diverse
groups
coupled with managerialuncertainty is frequently
a
source of conflict.
This
conflict can
either
be
focused
internally orexternally. In either
case
it can
be
destrucl~ve
o
the
goals
of
the
organizationFurthermore,
the
cultural differences inherent to
the
diversity
of
the
work
force
are
complexin
and
of themselves. Janosik (1
991)
has
jdentified four d~st~nctpproaches
that
imply
a
connection between culture
and
behavior:
I.
Cultureas
a
learned behavior
2.
Culture
as
a
shared value
3.
Culture
as
dialectic
4.
Cult
ure-in-contextWhile
it
is
beyond the scope
of
this paper to delve deeply into
the
cultural issues
above.
it
is
important
to
realize "culture" is
a
very
complex
element.
The
fact
that culture can be
operating
at
different levels in different people implies
that
when
conflict is
a
manifestation ofdivers~tyssues. it can
be
very
difficult to find
an
"inlegrated solut~on
o
the
conflict.
,
Role
Conflict
The
modern corporation
is
becom~ngncreas~nglymore complex.
Furthermore,
wrth
the
advent of global~zation, multinational corporation
is
now
composed of
set
of
quasi-~ndependent
systems operaling in
several
countries w~th ifferent priorities
and
cultures.
The
senior rnariager
in
this environment
no
longer has one s~rnpleole to play in the organization Role confl~ct
an
therefore
be
defined
as
a
conflict
of
system
priorities
(Shenkar
& Zeira.
1992).
Role conflict
tends
to
be
more
Internally focused than the other types
of
confl~ctdescribed in
thls
paper. Additionally.
i!
can
manifest itself in the relationship behav~or fIndividuals working together across systems boundaries. In this regard, when coupled with theInherent cultural diversity
of
a
multinalional corporation, this combination can
be
a
major sourceof destructive discord within the corpora:~on.
Dispute Resolution
When
Conflict
Becomes
a
Dispute
Srnce
the
rlature
of
organ~zational onflicts can be
qulfe
complex.
il
is hkely that
many
ind~v~duals
ill
not
be
able
tc
resolve their differences,
on
occasion, without assislance Whilekeep~ngn mind
that
some
level
of
conflict is normal and healthy,
a
company would
be
welladvised
to
develop methodolog~esor dealing with excess levels
of
destructwe confl~ct
r
organ~zattonai
~sputes
Resolution
The
dispute resolution process
has
been
curtrvated
In
the
public sector for some time.partly
because
there
seems
to
be no
end
lo
the
number
of
disputes both in and
out
of
courtRecently, public disputes
have
taken
a
path
away
from
the
more
adversarral
methodologies
of

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